A Migrant's Son

Picture of Joe

Joe is a university student, local mentor and entrepreneur but life hasn’t always been in balance.  The 21 year old Vietnamese Australian was once living with mental distress and could not leave the house.

Joe’s parent’s migrated to South Western Sydney over thirty years ago and he was raised in a tough but supportive family environment. Joe was young when he lost his father to cancer.  When his father died, he lost a parent, role model and friend. His father’s death also caused financial distress and Joe’s family struggled to pay for basic needs.

Like other children of parents who migrated to Australia, Joe felt a cultural pressure to succeed as he progressed through high school and into university. He felt that he needed to achieve more in life than his parents had. There was a strong pressure to succeed since he felt his family had less financial resources than others. It was in high school that Joe first started experiencing signs of living with depression, “everything I touched turned bad”, he recalls.

Joe was becoming disconnected from friends, feeling lost, making mistakes in relationships, had behaviour trouble at school and then lost a scholarship into university. Joe used distractions to cope which temporarily made things seem better. He used substances, over eating and an addiction to social media and technology to mask the pain he was experiencing but these distractions added to his experience of depression. Joe was getting into financial debt at this time which made things even worse. During all of this, Joe’s image on social media was that he was healthy, happy and successful. This was the expectation from society but Joe’s reality was the opposite and he was slipping, “it got to a point where it was unbearable”, he explains.

Joe spent a year where he barely left his house. He experienced depression and thoughts of self-harm. He felt afraid to face the world and thought he couldn’t do anything right. Joe finally realised he needed help and used personal motivation and professional support. He realised that to improve his health, he needed to improve his experiences with people and his community.

Talking with a psychologist helped Joe develop a stronger sense of identity. It helped him understand his feelings of being rejected by society and his insecurity. “I thought a great man was a superhero – I realised it’s about looking at what’s wrong and working towards making it better”. By getting help, Joe was able to re-build lifelong friendships and no longer felt misguided. This sense of feeling lost, without hope and direction was something Joe battled with over many years.

Joe’s life began to improve when he started to connect with others, share experiences and used the skills learnt by seeing a psychologist. He started university again, made new friends, regained his scholarship and got out of financial debt.

What was missing for Joe growing up is something he is now dedicated to provide for others. He started two organisations to help mentor disadvantaged young people in South West Sydney: Academia Mentorship and Edify Australia, “they give me more fulfilment than anything else”. Joe wants men to smash the stereotype of needing to prove and fix things themselves. By getting support when he did, Joe’s life changed for the better - “I hit rock bottom but it helped me change my life”.

If you need support, call Lifeline: 13 11 14 or the Mental Health Line - a 24-hour telephone service: 1800 011 511.

Joe’s story is a part of the Tackling the Challenge Project, a collection of local men’s stories, about resilience and recovery. If you have a story to share or would like to know more, contact Vinh Lai on 0491 174 230 or vlai@woodville.org.au

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